2001 Maritime
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Majors team for USCG Deepwater Program
Safety committee responds to concern over vessels in distress
IMO to act on places of refuge
International Maritime Organization member governments are to consider of the issue of providing places of refuge to vessels in distress. Concern about the problem comes in the wake of the incident earlier this year in which the salvors of the fully-laden tanker Castor were unable to find a sheltered place to effect cargo transfer and repairs for some 35 day

Last week's London meeting of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) agreed to instruct the Subcommittee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) to begin considering the issue of places of refuge at its meeting next month. Still, the NAV panel is expected to look at the issue for at least two years. That may seem an eternity, but it's warp speed for IMO. During that two years, the NAV panel is expected to work in cooperation with the MSC subcommittee on Radiocommunications, Search and Rescue (COMSAR) and the subcommittee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE).

The aim is to develop guidelines to help states and masters deal with a situation in which a ship in distress seeks a place of refuge. The proposed guidelines might cover :

  1. action expected from coastal States providing "places of refuge" to ships in distress;
  2. evaluation of risks associated with the provision of places of refuge; and
  3. action masters of ships in distress should take when in need of "places of refuges" (including action on board and action required by other ships in their vicinity, salvage operators and coastal States).


During the MSC debate on the issue, there was overwhelming support that the paramount concern in any action required relevant to the issue should be the safety of those involved. However, the protection of the marine environment should also be given high priority; Other factors discussed included legal, jurisdictional and sovereignty issues.

Piracy on rise
The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the IMO during 2000 was up by more than 50 per cent over the equivalent figure for 1999, the Maritime Safety Committee was told last week.

The number of piracy/armed robbery incidents rose to 471 last year, representing an increase of 162 in number (or 52%) over 1999. The total number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to have occurred from 1984 to the end of May 2001, was 2,309. 

In the period March 31, 2000 to March 31, 2001, the number of incidents reported decreased from 4 to 2 in the Mediterranean Sea and from 36 to 33 in West Africa, but increased from 37 to 112 in the Malacca Strait, from 136 to 140 in the South China Sea, from 51 to 109 in the Indian Ocean, from 16 to 29 in East Africa and from 29 to 41 in South America and the Caribbean.

Most of the attacks worldwide were reported to have occurred in territorial waters while the ships were at anchor or berthed. 

Crews of the ships involved in the reported incidents had been violently attacked by groups of five to ten persons carrying knives or guns. Last year, 72 crew members were killed, 129 were wounded and five were reported missing. In addition, one ship was destroyed, two were hijacked, three went missing. On three occasions the attackers used explosive devices. 

The MSC delegation of the Philippines noted that the statistics on piracy had greatly assisted in focusing on areas where greater coordination was needed in the campaign against piracy.It cited the assistance of the International Maritime Bureau in quickly sending information to the Philippine Coast Guard regarding the pirate attack on the ship Inabukwa. This led to the speedy recovery of the ship and the apprehension of the pirates.  The Phillipines delegation urged that similar measures be taken to inform concerned police authorities on pirate attacks, since the intent to commit piracy always originated ashore and, therefore, the coastal State concerned would have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute this crime. 

In pursuing the proposal for a regional agreement, coastal States should have the appropriate piracy legislation, including national laws, in place to enable the full exercise of the sovereign right of States to prosecute crime occurring within their shores or territory.

The MSC approved a draft resolution for the full IMO Assembly on the Code of Practice for the Investigation of the Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships. It will go before the next assembly in November of this year.

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